By Airman 1st Class William Tracy
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — The National Weather Service anticipates this year will present extreme wildfire danger, and so far, this has been the case.
Resources such as the wildfire incident information system provide real time updates on wildfires across the country. The Mile Marker 117 wildfire, which was first reported April 17 and consumed more than 40,000 acres, remains on the program’s map.
Earlier in the year, a private controlled burn spiraled out of control, encompassing 150 acres in less than two hours and causing evacuations in nearby Ellicott and Peyton, Colorado. The scars of past wildfires such as the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fire are still visible.
These incidents, within miles of Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, are a testimony to the clear and present danger wildfires present to property and infrastructure, nature and most importantly – people.
The Schriever AFB Fire Department explained with dry conditions and high winds, fires may spread rapidly and without warning, consuming thousands of acres in flames. They can be ignited just as fast as they can spread, from a flicked cigarette discarded from a car window to a loose chain dangling from the back of a truck causing sparks which can ignite nearby vegetation.
Now, despite El Paso County transitioning from Stage II to Stage I fire restrictions, it is important for Schriever AFB Airmen to remain diligent in stopping wildfires before they happen.
“It is important to abide by the restrictions due to our current climate in Colorado Springs,” said Tony Flowers, lead firefighter with the Schriever AFB Fire Department. “We are in a very heavy drought and due to that, fire danger is not just high, but extremely high. Restrictions are in place to help prevent fires, not to inconvenience anyone.”
Among the highest Stage I restrictions is a curtail on outdoor smoking. This means absolutely no smoking unless inside a building or vehicle, a developed recreation site, or in an area three feet in diameter that is clear of all flammable material. There are no buildings on Schriever AFB which permit indoor smoking. If smoking in allowed areas, it is imperative cigarettes are properly disposed of in an ashtray or other designated receptacle. For car owners, this means no discarding cigarettes, or even “ashing” cigarettes, out of a car window.
“One small ember in the conditions we have been under can cause a fire to spread in no time,” Flowers said. “Most fires that have started near roadways and highways have been from either a cigarette or an exhaust pipe from someone pulled over on the side of the road.”
Other Stage I measures include no open fire or open burning except in permanent structures in developed campgrounds and picnic grounds or in private residences in areas cleared of all flammable materials. Additionally, use and sale of fireworks remains prohibited.
“More and more people enjoy living in what we call the urban wildland interface,” Flowers said. “This is an area that combines natural and devolved areas together, like the Black Forest and Cheyenne Mountain areas for example. Because people want to live in these types of areas, it brings inherent risk of fires that threaten houses and other structures. The things that can start a fire are the very things that the burn restrictions and bans are trying to eliminate.”
In case of a wildfire on or near base, or near one’s home, the Schriever AFB fire department stresses Airmen to follow their guidance to determine whether to evacuate or remain in place.
Preferable to being reactive is being proactive. Remove items that will burn from around the house, such as woodpiles, shrubs that are against the building and wood mulch. Have trees trimmed so branches are not over or near structures. Keep roof gutters clear of debris and remove fallen leaves and pine needles as soon as possible after they fall.
On Schriever AFB, 50th Civil Engineer Squadron personnel have taken preventive measures of their own.
“We already increased mowing of vegetation throughout the base which will help reduce the fuel load in case of a wildland fire,” said Scott Russell, operations flight commander with the 50th CES. “We also plan to work with our fire department and local organizations to plan and prepare for cutting firebreaks. What this entails is using our heavy equipment, such as a grader, to scrape off vegetation to create a firebreak which will help prevent the wildfire from spreading. We can also use a towed sprayer to deploy water on the firebreak to help reduce risk.”
However, their work can be undone by individuals who do not practice fire safety, and put everyone around them at risk.
Russell says it is important Airmen remain informed and actively take preventive measures on their own.
“It only takes one careless incident to cause a fire,” he said. “Which could put lives at risk, it could risk the local community, whether it’s houses, personnel, livestock. We all need to take these measures seriously.”